A conversation with the inventor of cli-fi
February 11, 2014

And the Macquarie ‘honourable mention’ word of the year is… ‘cli-fi’!

My ebook IN ARK: A Promise of Survival is set 30 years in the future when a young woman in New York City faces the impact of climate change and gets abducted by an eco-survivalist community called Ark. It will release for Amazon's Kindle as an ebook in Arpil 2014.

My ebook IN ARK: A Promise of Survival is set 30 years in the future when a young woman in New York City faces the impact of climate change and gets abducted by an eco-survivalist community called Ark. It will release for Amazon’s Kindle as an ebook in Arpil 2014.

Each year the Macquarie Dictionary in Australia names a Word of the Year from a shortlist of words that have made a valuable contribution to the language. It also names one or two words that are given “honourable mentions” and one of the words for the 2013 list was “cli fi,” a new genre term for climate fiction novels and movies.

The Macquarie said ”cli fi” — a genre of science fiction — is based on the premise that climate change fundamentally changes the way human beings live.

The selection of cli-fi as one of the words of 2013 echoes similar word choices at WordSpy.com and Wired magazine’s December 2013 ‘Jargon Watch’. In addition, the term has been the subject of media reports in The Guardian and the Financial Times in Britain and in the New Yorker magazine and NPR in the USA.

In my interview with Danny Bloom, the American man who coined and popularized cli-fi, I posed some questions to him recently to find out more about this new literary genre. Danny is a writer and a climate change PR activist who is based in Taiwan, and is raising awareness worldwide about cli-fi.

His work isn’t just promoting the idea of cli-fi, it is also putting more attention to the issue of climate change. It is becoming impossible to ignore the signs of climate change being a reality, with The New York Times reporting on February 9 2014 that Iran’s great salt lake Lake Urmia in Iran has shrivelled up, in part, believed to be a result of climate change. The newspaper also reports that alarm is growing over climate change in California as a drought continues now for three years. Quoting Tom Vilsack, secretary of the federal Agriculture Department he told the newspaper that the drought in California is a “deep concern” and a warning sign of trouble ahead for much of the West. He also told The New York Times: “That’s why it’s important for us to take climate change seriously. If we don’t do the research, if we don’t have the financial assistance, if we don’t have the conservation resources, there’s very little we can do to help these farmers.”

And here in Britain, the BBC and Channel 4 News have interviewed climate change experts about the flooding happening in the country who say the drastic wet weather is another sign that the planet’s environment is changing dangerously.

I have no doubt that now cli-fi and the issues of climate change is a zeitgeist topic for the world now. This coincides perfectly with the timing for my ebook launches for Amazon’s Kindle in April 2014. In Ark: A Promise of Survival tells the story of a woman caught up in environmental impact of climate change 30 years into the future, who gets abducted by an eco-survivalist community.

Here’s my conversation with Danny:

LISA DEVANEY: You could have called this new genre “climate lit” or “cli-fic,” rather than “cli-fi” or “cli fi” depending on spelling style. So why did you decide to call it cli-fi? Sci-fi was once called ”sci-fic” in the early history of the sci fi genre. Did you ever think about using “cli-fic” as the new genre’s name?

DANNY BLOOM: I never thought of using ”cli-fic”, no. As for the style of writing it out, I like both cli fi and cli-fi. It will be up to editors to decide this.

LISA DEVANEY: Why did you create this term and what was your motivation?

DANNY BLOOM: I am a “PR climate activist” and have been since 2006, with some initial news about my work in the Dot Earth blog at The New York Times, Gizmodo and Geekologie. I have always felt that art and literature have strong roles to play in our culture, both as entertainment and wake up calls. So when I was thinking about ways to use art and literature to help raise awareness about climate change and global warming, and motivated by two teachers, James Lovelock and Andrew Revkin, I began to try to think of a new term for this kind of art, and modelling the name after sci-fi, which I grew up reading as a kid, I just took the rhyming sounds of sci-fi and put out the cli-fi term to see if it would take. It took. A whole new genre has emerged.

LISA DEVANEY: How have you gone about popularizing the genre online — and in print media?

DANNY BLOOM: Emails, blogs, tweets, Facebook updates, comments in other blogs and sites, and working on this 24/7 with no break for weekends or holidays. This is my life’s work now, trying to popularize cli-fi as a genre for novelists and film writers to use in future works, if they want to. It’s catching on now, step-by-step. Wikipedia has a page devoted to cli-fi, and any Google search will show over a thousand websites and blogs writing about cli-fi.

LISA DEVANEY: What do editors, publishers and literary critics — academics, too — think of the term and what kind of feedback have you gotten from them?

DANNY BLOOM: When I queried some top sci-fi historians and sci-fi writers about this, they all told me they liked the term of cli-fi and that they saw where I am trying to go with this and my reasons for wanting to do so, but they also said that in their opinion, as sci-fi historians or sci-fi novelists, they see cli-fi as a subgenre of sci-fi, and not as a new genre of its own. However, other editors, writers, literary historians and academics in Australia, the UK and the USA told me they see cli-fi as separate genre on its own now. So time will tell. I am fine with both ways of seeing all this.

LISA DEVANEY: What has the media reaction been to this new genre? And were the reactions different in the USA media, the UK media and the Australian media, and if so, how different and why do you think they were different in different countries?

DANNY BLOOM: In the USA, NPR and Dissent magazine and the New Yorker did big stories. In the UK, The Guardian did a big story, followed by a story in the Financial Times there. Alison Flood did a very good blog post, too. In Australia, there has been little news so far, but in February 2014 the Macquarie Dictionary listed its top words of 2013 in a press release that went worldwide and was reported in all major Australian media, and one of the words listed which got an honourable mention was cli-fi. In addition, there have been news stories about cli-fi in newspapers and online sites in Italy, Spain, India, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

LISA DEVANEY: Is cli-fi a subgenre of sci-fi or a genre of its own?

DANNY BLOOM: Time will tell. Writers and literary critics and media observers can take it any way they wish to. For me, it’s a genre of its own, on its own now. But if critics and media observers want to call it a subgenre of sci-fi, I am okay with that, too. It will sort itself out eventually. Come what may.

LISA DEVANEY: Can cli-fi novels or film scripts or short stories only be written? by people who firmly accept that climate change and global warming are real and are really happening, or can writers who are climate sceptics or climate denialists also write cli-fi novels, such as State of Fear by Michael Crichton in 1994?

DANNY BLOOM: Yes, cli-fi novels can be written by anyone, from any point of view, pro or con global warming. There is no agenda here, other than to address climate themes. Individual writers can go where their ideas and imaginations take them. All POV are novel-worthy for this genre of literature.

For more information and to keep up-to-date about cli-fi, please visit Danny’s CLI-FI CENTRAL blog.